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BibliOdyssey // Public Domain 

The Deadly Pain Medicine Sold by Skeletons

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BibliOdyssey // Public Domain 

These days, we’re used to pharmaceutical advertising featuring pastel shades, dulcet tones, and 10 paragraphs of fine print. But at the end of the 1800s, one St. Louis company marketed their signature pain-relieving product with a series of macabre calendars featuring skeletons at work and play. Ironically, the very product they were advertising would later be shown to be fatal.

Although the name of the company—and the images—seem vaguely European, the Antikamnia Chemical Company was a home-grown affair. The company was founded by two former drug store owners in St. Louis in the late 1880s to sell Antikamnia, a medicine designed to combat both pain and fever (the name comes from Greek words meaning “opposed to pain”). Although the formula of Antikamnia varied over time, its principal ingredient was always acetanilide, a coal tar derivative. The company touted its little white pills as a “certain remedy, unattended by any danger,” useful for everything from flu to headaches, and especially handy taken as a preventative before sports or even shopping.

Wellcome Images // Public Domain

The company aggressively marketed its goods to physicians with direct mailings and promotional products. (Although the medicine was never patented and required no prescription, its makers hoped the freebies would entice doctors to recommend the products.) One of those promotional goods was a limited-edition calendar created for the years 1897 to 1901, and featuring the darkly comic illustrations of one Louis Crusius. A doctor as well as an artist, Crusius’s illustrations once graced the windows of the drug store he co-owned in St. Louis. In 1893, he’d published The Funny Bone, a compilation of his jokes and drawings. His calendars, though, seem to have been his most successful effort, and they still routinely fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay, at antique stores, and on ephemera-related sites. Sadly, Crusius wouldn’t survive the run of his calendars—he died in 1898, at age 35, of renal cell carcinoma.

And as it turned out, the calendars themselves were promoting a dangerous product. Acetanilide, the coal-tar derivative, had the unfortunate side effect of producing cyanosis, meaning it turned extremities blue from a lack of oxygen. Deaths related to the ingredient were reported as early as 1891. One 1907 article in the California State Journal of Medicine article entitled “Poisoning by Antikamnia” described a woman who had taken the drug as being “practically without pulse, cyanosed, with shallow breathing, and a ‘leaky skin.'”

Fortunately, Antikamnia was an early target of the progressive campaigners at the FDA, which ruled in 1907 that products containing acetanilide had to be clearly labeled as such. However, the company attempted to skirt the rules by changing its product in the U.S. market to contain acetaphenetidin, an acetanilid derivative, and then advertising that its product was acetanilide-free. That worked for a little while, but as the journal Confluence explains, in 1910 U.S. marshals seized a shipment for violating the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the case that followed went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Court eventually ruled that Antikamnia was in violation of the Act for not stating that the drug contained an acetanilid derivative, a ruling that was considered a landmark in support of Progressive Era reform. The Antikamnia Chemical Company’s fortunes tanked not long afterward, although not before making founder of the company Frank A. Ruf rich. At his death in 1923, his estate was worth more than $2 million.

While the calendars survive as a charming memento of a time when pharmaceutical advertising could be a little less saccharine, it’s hard not to wonder what the victims of Antikamnia might have made of these frolicking skeletons if they had only known what was really being advertised.

But despite its dangers, Antikamnia does seem to have been effective at dampening pain. About 50 years later, scientists discovered that the primary metabolic product of acetanlilide is paracetamol, now known as acetaminophen—or Tylenol.


All images via BibliOdyssey // Public Domain unless otherwise specified.

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This Amazing Clock Has a Different Hand for Every Minute of the Day
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In the video below, you can watch Japanese ad agency Dentsu transform passing time into art. According to Adweek, the project was commissioned by Japanese stationery brand Hitotoki, which produces crafting materials. To celebrate the value of handmade items in an increasingly fast-paced world, Dentsu created a film advertisement for their client depicting their goods as a stop-motion clock.

The timepiece ticks off all 1440 minutes in the day, and was assembled in real-time against a colored backdrop during a single 24-hour take. Its "hands" were crafted from different combinations of some 30,000 disparate small items, including confetti, cream puffs, tiny toys, silk leaves, and sunglasses.

"In a world where everything is so hectic and efficient, we wanted to bring the value of 'handmade' to life," explains Dentsu art director Ryosuke Miyashita in a press statement quoted by Stash Media. "We created different combinations of small Hitotoki brand items to express each and every minute."

You can check out a promotional video for the project below, which details the arduous crafting process, or view a real-time version of the clock here.

[h/t Adweek]

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The Time Walter Cronkite Angered R.J. Reynolds
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If you’re a stickler for the correct usage of “who” versus “whom,” or if you find yourself seething over the “10 Items or Less” sign at the grocery store, you have something in common with Walter Cronkite.

As a respected journalist and news anchor, Cronkite was very careful about his words, from his enunciation of them to the tone in which he said them—so you can imagine his indignation at being asked to deliver a line with purposely incorrect grammar.

In 1954, shortly after being named the host of a morning show on CBS, Cronkite was tasked with a live-read of a Winston cigarette ad. Though it’s hard to imagine Anderson Cooper or Lester Holt concluding a segment with an earnest plug for Budweiser or McDonald’s, anchor-read endorsements were commonplace in the 1950s. Cronkite had a problem with the commercial, but it wasn’t the product he took umbrage with—it was the tagline: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”

Though it may sound fine to most ears, the word “like” is actually used inappropriately. Traditionally, “like” is used as a preposition and “as” is used as a conjunction, but the Winston ad treats “like” as a conjunction, or a connecting word.

Here’s the line in action. Just a warning: If you’re a grammar purist, the phrase “tastes real good” is also sure to raise your hackles.

Cronkite refused to say the line as it was written. Instead, he delivered it the correct way: “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.” His former English teachers may have been beaming at their television sets, but the execs at R.J. Reynolds, Winston’s parent company, weren’t so happy, and neither was their ad agency. The agency pounced on Cronkite’s correction, but he remained unapologetic. “I can’t do an ungrammatical thing like that,” he told them.

Wording wasn’t the only problem—his smoking, or lack thereof, was also an issue. Cronkite wasn’t a cigarette smoker, but after delivering the offending line to the cameras, he was supposed to take a puff from a Winston. Though he obliged, he didn’t inhale. The agency reprimanded Cronkite for that as well, feeling that a spokesperson who clearly didn’t use the product couldn't convince viewers to pick up a pack. They asked Cronkite to inhale on camera—and that’s where he drew the line. “Let’s just call this thing off,” he says he told them. “CBS was up in the rafters, of course, about it at the time.” It was Cronkite's first and only commercial.

Here’s the story straight from the anchor himself:

For the record, Cronkite wasn’t the only high-profile person who had a problem with the Winston wording. “Like goes Madison Avenue, like so goes the nation,” Ogden Nash wrote in The New Yorker.

Years later, Winston tried to capitalize on the controversy with a commercial that depicted a professor lecturing his students about the sloppily worded slogan. The students doth protest, jumping up in unison and saying, “What do you want, good grammar or good taste?”

Unimpressed, The Wall Street Journal responded to the question in a 1970 op-ed: “It doesn’t matter which you want. In a Winston ad, you don’t get either.”


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